Thomas and Uber Cup Review: Young Indian Stars Punch Above their Weight

Asia's Tech News Daily

© Provided by News18

Notwithstanding the debacle in the Sudirman cup, the young Indian badminton contingent can return home with their heads held high after a good display in Thomas and Uber cup matches. And there are many takeaways from Denmark which we can work on to become stronger and better, indeed a formidable force in the world arena in near future. Clearly, the policies of the BAI are paying rich dividends.

Uber Cup

Let us look at our Uber cuppers first. The perennial question of who after Saina, Sindhu and Jwala Gutta-Ashwini Ponappa, may not be answered immediately, but my opinion is that we are getting there, we are on the right track. Concurs Ami Ghia Shah, winner of many national championships and an icon of Indian badminton who was once ranked world No.7 in her time. One of the most respected names in the sport, Shah says,” I am really impressed by our younger players like Malvika Bansod and Aditi Bhatt and the new doubles pairs that played in the Uber cup in Denmark. They may have lost their matches against much higher ranked players, but they showed maturity and great fighting spirit.”

Malvika had to shoulder the responsibility of first singles after the legendary Saina Nehwal, who had missed the Sudirman Cup but had flown in to head our Uber campaign, conceded her match against Spain’s Clare Azurmendi due to injury. Clare had won the first game 22-20 in our opening tie against the Spaniards. Malvika played superbly to win the second singles against former world number 20 Beatris Corrales, 21-13, 21-15. She was supported by Aditi Bhatt, 18 years old, who play another 18-year-old Anisa Setein and won 21-16, 21-14.

India had lost first doubles when the highly experienced pair of Ponnappa-Siki bowed out to Azurmendi-Corrales in three hard-fought games. But our young pair Tanisha Crasto and Rutuparna Panda ensured that India prevail 3-2 in the tie, as they combined nicely to demolish Paula Lopez/Loretta Uske 21-19, 21-8.

Against Scotland which was a crucial tie for India, we prevailed 4-1, again thanks to our youngsters. Malvika Bansod lost to the very experienced Kirsty Gilmour 13-21, 9-21. But then our young stars rose to the occasion and won all the remaining matches to ensure India stayed in the hunt for a quarter-finals spot. Analysis by Ami is spot on. She says,” I think the younger players know that they have to shoulder the responsibility now. Though Malvika was out of form, the rest, including 16-year-old Tasneem Mir played with maturity and focus. These ties are not easy.”

Aditi Bhatt defeated Rachel Sugden 21-14, 21-8. Tasneem, clearly the star of the future, beat Laura Middleton 21-15, 21-6. We won the two doubles. Wisely the team management decided to rest the Ponnappa/Siki Reddy combination and brought in the young pair of Terresa Jolly and Gayatri Gopichand. This was the time for the young India brigade to walk through fire and come out unscathed. The stage was now set for an India v Thailand showdown in the group.

The scores do not do justice or reveal what a battle Malvika Bansod fought against the World No.10 Pornpawee Chochuwang in the 15-21,11-21 scoreline. There were good long rallies and Chochuwong was really hassled. Malvika not ready to attack, but hits well controlled deep tosses which rattled the Thai many times. Malvika must work on getting powerful smashes because many a time she got easy returns but could not convert.

Ponnappa and Siki lost easily to Jongophan- Rawinda 16-21, 12-21, but then Aditi came in to warm your cockles. She almost caught World No. 13 Busanon Ongbamrungphan (a real tongue twister that name) by the scruff of her neck in the 75-minute encounter which she lost 16-21, 21-18, 15-21. She has to work on her sideways movement, especially on her backhand where Busanon got many points. And yes like Malvika, Aditi also had to work on quick hard smashes.

Jolly and Gopinath played well against the World No. 23 pair, the highly experienced Sapisree-Puttita but succumbed 17-21, 16-21. The Indians are not ranked in the top 100 rankings, but still, they fought a valiant battle, showing that they can do better with experience. Tasneem Mir led 17-14 in the first game but could not hold the initiative and bowed out 19-21/15-21 to Katethong. India qualified for the quarter-final only to run into the top-seeded Japan who are also holders of the trophy. The Japanese were far too strong and experienced and easily won the tie 3-0 against the youngsters from India.

Opines Ami Ghia Shah, “The youthful Indian squad should not feel depressed. They had a very good tournament and BAI must build on this and coaches must know what is required to make this into a really strong squad. We must give them exposure to high-class events and work on their strength and fitness so that by the time next Uber cup comes across we should think of winning it, rather than be happy in just reaching the quarter-finals.”

© Provided by News18 Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty (BAI)

Thomas Cup

As expected we ran over Netherlands and Tahiti in our group without any problems not allowing the opponents any opportunities. We did extremely well against top seeds China in our final group match. After Kidambi Srikanth lost out in first singles to Shi Yu Qui in 38 minutes 12-21, 16-21, our young gladiators Satwiksairaj Rankireddy and Chirag Shetty walked in with purposeful steps with only one thought in mind, to equalise and tie the score for India. In 41 minutes of pulsating badminton played at a furious pace they stunned the top Chinese pair 21-14, 21-14. This was a humongous victory and it propelled Sameer Verma to play the match of his life against Lu Guang Zu, unfortunately losing by the proverbial whisker.

Attacking from start but with measured precise strikes he carved out the first game 21-14, by good domination of the net area. But the long rallies busted his stamina and he caved in 9-21 in the second. In the decider, Sameer lead from the start till 16-14 before Lu could get his teeth into the game and went up to 17-16. Sameer with long rallies tested the stamina of Lu and slowly but surely had a grip on the game and Increased his lead to 20-17, three Match-Points in his pocket.

It was here that he lost his focus and concentration and allowed the Chinese to take 5 points in a row to sneak up to 21-20 match point. Sameer still had another match point when he served at 22-21 but Lu killed of the suspense by snatching the decider 24-22. Arjun-Dhruv Kapila played another brilliant match, but lost out 24-26, 19-21 giving China an unbeatable lead of 3-1 in the tie. That we pushed the top seeds to the limit is in itself a huge story. Our boys did extremely well under trying circumstances and pressure. The Chinese would not have slept well that night.

India set up a quarterfinals slugfest with Denmark, who have played 9 finals of Thomas cup, but won only once. India on the other have not gone beyond the semi-finals anytime. In this edition too we lost out, this time to Denmark, the tie score being 3-1. World and Olympic champion Viktor Axelsen led, against former world one ranked Srikanth, 6-3 in head to head, and went on to ensure that the head to head now goes 7-3 in his favour. The 6ft,4 inch tall Dane is stunningly agile on the court, for such a tall man, and his fast foray to the net after smashing hard is breathtaking. The current world ranked 2, displays a great variation of smashes which unsettled Kidambi and never allowed him to play in any rhythm.

Srikant had a fantastic time in 2017 when he won three back to back super series titles. He was ranked world No.1 in 2018. He shocked the badminton world when he bearded the Lion in his own den so to say, defeating Lin Dan in the finals of China open. But of late he has been trying to find the old form. Srikant tried to ram through Viktor, hitting power shots instead of precision strokes. The towering Danish star was king on the court and he won 21-12, 21-13 without breaking a sweat in the 40 minutes washout. Then came Satwik and Chirag Shetty who stunned the top Danish pair of Astrup/Rasmussen, world-ranked 11, former European champions, in a three-game encounter 21-15, 17-21, 21-18 to bring the tie 1-1 equaliser.

Sai Praneeth came in to play 2nd singles and was hammered by world 3 ranked Antonsen 9-21, 15-21 in thirty-five minutes. This is where India erred, says former national champion and iconic player Leroy D’sa.”When you know he is woefully out of form, why did you not drop him and bring in Sameer Verma to play and that would have brought in the best player from selection trials, Kiran George to play third singles. This was a cardinal mistake, the guidance was not there for the team. I think we had a great chance to make history but we missed out. Against top seeds China too we had a great chance but lucked out. But there are some good takeaways for us from Denmark. A new generation of players are emerging ready to take their place under the Sun. This augurs well for our future. And yes doubles for once is in limelight.”

Arjun and Kapila who had done so we’ll till now lost their match to Sogaard and Christensen 16_21, 9-21.

But overall I think this was probably the best Thomas cup campaign we had. True we had a great chance to upset the apple cart of both China and Denmark. That would have been remarkable. Still, we can build upon the lessons we should learn from these two losses. And team management that can think out of the box can really help.

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